KEEPING THE SKIES CLEAR FOR SKIING Drones are grounded at Maine’s biggest ski areas.

As if selfie sticks and GoPros mounted on helmets aren't de rigueur enough to capture our stylin' selves on the slopes, drones are now the buzz.

The Federal Aviation Administration has estimated some 1 million drones will be sold during the holiday season. A trade group called Consumer Technology Association figures the number will be somewhat lower, around 700,000.

Maine's largest ski areas aren't exactly bracing for an onslaught of the remote-controlled camera-carrying flying machines come the day after Christmas.

But they've been on the radar.

The National Ski Areas Association, a trade group for more than 300 North American resorts, unveiled a sample policy that bans drones without permission as drone manufacturers market to skiers and snowboarders for personal use.

Across the nation, and in Maine resorts like Sunday River, Sugarloaf and Shawnee Peak say no to drones without prior written consent from the ski area.

"We see them from to time," said Sugarloaf marketing director Ethan Austin. "A kid will fly his new Phantom around. But it hasn't been a huge problem. When we have big events like the reggae festival when people might be enticed to fly them we post a lot of signage saying they're prohibited."

The policies go something like this: Due to safety and privacy concerns, INSERT SKI AREA HERE prohibits the operation or use of unmanned aerial systems, or aerial drones, by the general public — including recreational users and hobbyists — without prior written authorization from the resort.

They go on to say this applies to the media too. Plus, you can't launch from private property and fly it over said resort.

FAA rules and local law enforcement also come into play.

Can't really blame the resorts as drone flight is still emerging. Drones can clip chairlifts, power lines, trees and skiers and riders.

Nick Lambert, Sunday River's vice president of sales and marketing, says the River's had a no drone policy for two years and that there are still lots of unknowns with drones.

"I think it's absolutely the onward march forward in technology," Lambert said. "The difference with a selfie and GoPro is that those don't have the safety issues for skiers that drones would."

Same at the Loaf.

"When you have a few thousand guests skiing you don't want things flying from the sky and hitting them," Austin said. "It can get really windy up there, and it can be tough to fly these things. We also have all these chairlifts with moving parts and you don't want a drone flying in."

What happens if you're caught? They may yank your pass whether it's a day ticket or a season pass. They could confiscate your recreational unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). You could also be liable for any damages that may have resulted from your malignant flight.

Verbal warnings from ski patrol are preferred, though.

Shawnee Peak saw drones a couple of times last season, including one at an event, and decided to use that NSAA sample policy.

"Drones can be a distraction," said Shawnee's director of marketing Rachael Wilkinson. "Everyone stops and looks. They can hit lift towers and skiers. We also don't know who it belongs to."

There are other options. Some ski areas across the country are looking at "Drone Zones" where a trained commercial operator charges for a video session of you ripping it up for a few runs.

"We've been approached by outfits like that, but that's not something we want to do right now," Austin said. "Like other innovations, drones aren't going to go away. We have to determine how they will impact the guest experience."

Lambert says the River isn't looking at any drone zones now, but may be open to it down the road depending on FAA regulations.

"We haven't had any problems with them," Lambert said. "Ski patrol is familiar with the policy and if they see one they'll just ask them to take it off the hill."

Wilkinson doesn't believe that drones are going to be wildly out of control at Shawnee.

"We know they're coming," she said. "We just want to be pro-active."

Coming up

Santa's slated for a Dec. 19 Shawnee Peak visit. Monday Night Madness kicks off weather-permitting Dec. 21 with $13 lift tickets.

World Snowboard Day at Sugarloaf Dec. 20 means first timers get $10 learn to ride lessons (call Perfect Turn at 1-800-THE-LOAF). Demo snowboards are free at the new Burton Shop and show your skills at the noon Ollie Contest on the Beach.

It's College Weekend at Sunday River Dec. 19-20 with $39 lift tickets for college students with valid ID.

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